Excerpts from CLIMBING BACK
happened so quickly I didn't have time to be scared. One moment
I was hopping onto a sloping ledge covered with loose rocks.
The next I was pitching crazily forward, tumbling head over
heels into a somersault. I landed on my back with a sickening
cra-a-a-ack, and continued bouncing down the rocks.
something!" I told myself. I reached out but it was all
happening too fast. My hands glanced off the rocks as the
world cartwheeled wildly around me. I flipped over again and
again, cracking my shoulder and my back on the rocks.
seemed to be happening in slow motion, yet at the same time
too quickly for me to react. I was helpless to stop myself;
I kept sliding and bouncing down the gully, shredding my skin
on the rough granite.
is it," I said to myself. "This is what it's like
head smacked into one rock outcrop; another caught me in the
ribs. Then I was falling through the air, down a vertical
headwall. I crashed into rocks at the bottom and kept tumbling
and rolling down the steep mountainside.
honestly don't know what stopped me. Certainly it was nothing
I did. After about a hundred feet of bouncing like a pinball
down the rocky chute, my body finally came to rest on a flat
ledge. If I had missed it, I probably would have gone all
the way to the bottom, another thousand feet below.
lay there gasping for breath. My heart pounded as if it were
going to burst out of my chest. I was in a world of hurt.
My clothes were shredded, my body covered with gashes and
gravel. Reaching slowly behind my head, I felt a sharp, jabbing
pain exploded in my chest. I felt sick to my stomach, and
chills racked my body.
next thing I remember, Peter was by my side. "Hang tight,"
he said. "I'm going for help. It should be here first
thing tomorrow." Suddenly he was gone and I was alone
on the ledge. It was very quiet.
Later that day we finally received word that Mark was alive,
and that they had been able to fly him out. I felt utter relief.
It was another day and a half before I would see him.
tiptoed into the intensive care unit, where Mark was. He had
tubes coming out of just about every bodily orifice. I asked
him if he was doing alright, and I'll never forget what he
he said weakly, "at last we climbed the peak."
the time I thought it was a bit of misplaced bravado, I still
think it was excessive, but that's the kind of attitude that
got him through the night. And that's what allowed him to
climb another mountain one day.
fever filled my arms with energy, and I cranked off the last
few hundred of my seven thousand chin-ups without even pausing
to rest. We were so close we could almost smell the top. The
severe angle of the wall eased off and Corbett found he could
scramble up it without pounding in pitons every few feet.
Standing on a small ledge, he turned his back to me and bent
aboard," he said.
we'd finish El Capitan the way we started it, with me riding
piggyback on Mike. We were still on dangerous terrain, but
after the absolute sheer verticality of the last twenty-nine
hundred feet, it seemed like a cakewalk.
wrapped my arms around Corbett's neck and used a carabiner
to attach my harness to his. After eight days on El Cap, his
body felt bony. His movement were tentative and his legs seemed
wobbly, like an astronaut returning to earth after a week
in zero gravity. But after all we had been through together,
I had complete and total confidence in him.
moved slowly and with exaggerated care up the last steep section
of the route, pausing every few feet to catch his breath.
Suddenly, over our shoulders, there was an ear-splitting roar.
I looked up to see a helicopter from one of the San Francisco
television stations only five hundred feet above us, a cameraman
leaning out the window. The pilot was flagrantly violating
National Park regulations, which require aircraft to stay
two thousand feet above the valley rim.
angle eased further, and Corbett tried to pick up the pace.
Now dispensing with the rope altogether, he fought a battle
with impatience and exhaustion. The summit couldn't arrive
soon enough for either of us.
were moving up a sloping slap of granite covered with loose
gravel when it happened.
foot slipped, his legs buckled slightly, and for one horrifying
moment we teetered there, on the brink. An electric current
of fear jolted me out of my weariness. The circumstances were
frighteningly similar to those of seven years before, when
a single instant of carelessness had changed my life forever.
Then, as now, it had been a few pebbles out of an entire mountain
that got me.
staggered, trying to regain his balance. I held my breath.
If we lost it here, there would be nothing to stop us . .